A Writer Needs To Write, A Literary Agent Will Do The Rest.
Welcome to another edition of the #SyncityNGLLL show.
In this session, we wrapped up the two-part series on literary agents who represent Africans, blacks and minorities. In the opening part, we had Malaika Adero and it was an honour concluding with the well practiced and esteemed, Bieke van Aggelen.
Bieke van Aggelen draws on 30 years of publishing experience mainly in the Dutch market. She has lived and worked in the Netherlands, Switzerland, And Hungary, and lived in South Africa for the past 6 years where she founded Van Aggelen African Literary Agency.
She tirelessly searches for the best match between author and publisher on a global scale and is absolutely devoted to sharing the passionate, diverse and talented authors originating from the African Continent.
Bieke embraces smaller, more selective publishing houses serving niche markets. It is in that space that she focuses her search and discovers hidden gems overlooked by others.
She represents authors like Tendai Huchu, Panashe Chigumadzi, Mohale Mashigo and others.
Syncity NG: Ladies and gentlemen, with a warm applause, please welcome Bieke van Aggelen! So excited to have you here, Bieke.
Bieke van Aggelen: Thanks. Happy to be here as a guest in your show.
Syncity NG: Let’s begin. Such wealth of experience you have there. 30 years is a long time. What do you look out for before you pitch a manuscript to a publisher?
Bieke van Aggelen: The manuscript needs to be unique, different and needs to tell a story not yet known beyond the African continent.
Syncity NG: Any particular themes you look out for?
Bieke van Aggelen: No, not really. Themes that get the reader. Fiction, non-fiction or a great, mesmerizing children story.
Syncity NG: You have worked in two vibrant literary spaces: the African scene and that of the West. What do you think players in the African lit. space need to do more of to be as vibrant as their counterpart?
Bieke van Aggelen: That the work doesn’t stop with finishing a book. That’s just the start of it. You need to be visible and active on any platform you can think of.
Syncity NG: Wow. I really like that your last statement, ‘The work doesn’t finish with a book…’. Can you shed light on things authors need to do to gain visibility from your experience as a literary agent?
Bieke van Aggelen: Build a community, attend festivals, write essays/blogs/vlogs and choose to be and act as a writer.
Syncity NG: What exactly is the duty of a literary agent? What do you do for your clients? Secondly, if someone were to take you on, what would it entail?
Bieke van Aggelen: As a Literary agent, I also work closely together with the publishing companies who publish the work. They are the ones who locally can make a difference.
I try to find a publisher for the work. I will promote the writer at publishing houses globally by attending Book Fairs. I will discuss endlessly with the author what to do to make an impression, to become visible and to keep on writing if they are still in the process.
I love to take care of writers. To negotiate when there is a deal and to be sure that the acquiring party is doing it’s best to make the book a success. So my work starts with reading the manuscript, then find a publisher, then keep on promoting the author.
The work doesn’t stop with finishing a book. That’s just the start of it.Bieke van Aggelen
Syncity NG: Wow! That’s quite a lot of work you do there. How do you get your authors? Do they approach you or do you approach them? Are you open to submissions all year round?
Bieke van Aggelen: I don’t work with submissions anymore. I got too many and was not able to keep my promise to read and give feedback. I do the same as publishers do: reading the papers, following the communities, extend and use my network and talk a lot with the publishers I work with.
MystiqueSyn O. (@mystiquesynn): How do you get people to understand the job of literary agents? There are a lot of African writers who may need convincing about the duty of an agent. How do you convince these people that an agent is necessary?
Bieke van Aggelen: If you choose to focus on writing a book, and another one, and another one, you need someone who can take care of promoting you, negotiating, finding the right connections, etc. A writer needs to write, a Literary Agent will do the rest.
They can search for information on the internet. They can talk to publishers and ask what to do. They can find out by being at a literary festival and connect. It’s really a tough job to be a writer and we are there to help them out so that they can keep on writing.
Ibrahim B. Ibrahim (@HEEMtheWriter): It’s been refreshing reading this. Thanks SynCityNG for making it happen. Bieke, most literary agents focus on writers with finished manuscripts/book projects. How do you suggest a short-story writer go about finding an agent? Do you represent short-story writers?
Bieke van Aggelen: As a short story writer, you can try to find platforms to publish them. Find literary magazines on the internet and send your stories. If they get published there, they might get reviewed, they might find their way to a publisher. Use your own social media as well. It’s hard work. Short stories are a difficult genre. It’s an art to write them but very hard to sell them to publishers. How can I help? I’m not working with short stories myself. I’m just curious to our audience. Who is writing a book right now?
Dhee Sylvester (@DheeGenius): I have two literary fiction novels I’m working on at the moment. If I can put the work and time in, I should be done with both before Christmas.
Bieke van Aggelen: And then, Dhee? What do you have in mind?
Dhee Sylvester (@DheeGenius): I’ll like to get published the “normal” way. My first book was self-published and I don’t want to go through that route/process again. I literally had to do everything on that project on my own. I mean book design, marketing/publicity, and distribution. It was a lot of work.
Bieke van Aggelen: If I can give you a tip? Have a three-sentence pitch of your work, know your target group, and know your market (just browse and you will find out how your work is different).
Ol’s Network (@olsnetwork): I have a completed manuscript. Two in fact. One is a magical fantasy based on Nigerian myth, another is drama with flecks of paranormality. Would you be interested in reading a pitch?
Bieke van Aggelen: It’s not really the genre I work with but read the tip I sent to Dhee.
Ol’s Network (@olsnetwork): I have finished two books. Working on a series right now.
Bieke van Aggelen: A series? That’s ambitious. Keep on writing.
‘Dele Abiodun (@MASKURAID): I have a completed manuscript. I also have a collection of short stories.
Melody King (@Dr_Alams): I have a completed manuscript ‘Grown Girl’. It is a coming of age women’s fiction that explores the fate of Africa’s most vulnerable demographic, girls aged 18-25, through the eyes of the protagonist.
Bieke van Aggelen: You can always send me your bio, a short synopsis, a pitch and three chapters of the book.
Syncity NG: Bieke, from your wealth of experience, can you tell us why some people get published and some do not?
Bieke van Aggelen: That’s as a hard question as asking me when a book will be a bestseller and when not. It’s a magic mix of things. It starts with a good sense of your target group – for whom are you writing? Who will be interested in what you have to say?
Nneoma (@nommi_e): Please how long do you advice that a writer uses for a 70000+ novel and what is your take on self-editing?
Bieke van Aggelen: I would not advise self-editing. As a writer, you should write and focus on the story, the plot, and the writing. Editing is really a different profession. Keep on writing above all. It’s a great art and it’s my job to share it with the rest of the world. The global book industry needs your voice but is very competitive. Write because you like to do it, if you want to get published, please do some research first.
Syncity NG: We want to thank Bieke van Aggelen for making out time to come share her wealth of experience with us. Thank you so much.
Bieke van Aggelen: A pleasure and thanks Syncity NG for giving me the opportunity to share. Again, please keep on writing and reading.
An awesome time it was with Bieke and again, many creatives that tuned in the got the chance to send synopses of their works to her. SyncityNG is delighted about this and much more the show is yielding. Join us every Monday by 7PM – 8:30PM (Nigerian time) on Twitter for interesting and informative sessions with Literary Lords and Ladies from across the continent and beyond.